REVIEW: Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition
Roadster even a trucker will love
2015 MAZDA MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition
Engine: 2L i4
Fuel consumption: (claimed, L/100km) manual – 9.7 City, 7.1 Hwy; Auto – 10.1 City, 7.2 Hwy. Premium recommended
Competition: Used Mercedes-Benz SLK 250, used BMW Z4
What’s best: Satisfying drive, high-quality finish, value for money
What’s worst: Noisy with roof up, long drop down to seat, impractical as only car
What’s interesting: The next generation MX-5 will be revealed next month
Sporty vehicle is fun, peppy and built for drivers who don’t need to prove anything to anyone
The big trucker walked over to where I was sitting in the restaurant and towered over my table, hands on hips. His dark arms crawled with tattoos beneath thick curled hair.
“Is that your Mazda outside?” he said, with a deep diesel voice and a touch of Quebec. I lowered my burger slowly to the plate, met his eyes and gulped just a little. Any words would have wavered, so I nodded, pretending to chew.
Outside in the truck stop lot, the little red convertible stood out like a drop of fresh blood on a face pocked with Kenworths, Freightliners and Macks. Much like the face of this trucker standing over me, squinting down at the only car driver in the joint.
“What year is it?” he asked. “Is it this year? I have a 2009 at home. It’s a great car. May I?” And he took the seat opposite, and I gulped again and breathed a little easier.
He told me about his car, and about the drive he took last summer with his wife around the Gaspé Peninsula. He said he loved its simplicity because he spent his work days behind the wheel of a huge tractor-trailer, rowing through 18 gears and constrained by log books and places to be.
With the little soft-top, he and his wife could go where they wanted and enjoy the feel of the drive again. Instead of being high above everything, they were skimming the asphalt, just a hands-width from the road.
He was interested in my car, a 2015 Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition, because it had the removable hardtop, like four out of five MX-5s now sold in Canada. Did it rattle, he wanted to know, as his friends told him it did?
If truth be told, I had no idea. The weather had been warm since I collected the tester and I’d not yet driven with the roof in place. I confessed my ignorance and he smiled.
“My wife and me, we never put the roof up,” he said. “Not one time, not around all the Gaspésie. You don’t have a Miata to drive with the roof up, you know.”
The MX-5 hasn’t been officially called a Miata since this third generation was introduced for the 2006 model year. It came out swinging then, up against the new Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. GM’s sexy roadsters looked good, but they couldn’t match the Mazda for practicality in a small package.
It’s comparatively inexpensive, having a list price just below $30,000 if you’re happy with the manual soft top and don’t care about air conditioning. It sounds like a good deal, but you need to stop the car and get out of the seat to work the roof properly and that’s something you’ll curse when it starts to rain.
That base version also comes with a five-speed gearbox that feels strained at speed. An automatic is available that includes air conditioning for an extra $2,000 — my new trucker friend had opted for that to counter his long days of double-declutching.
Step it up to the next level, at just over $36,000, and the GS version solves all these issues with a power-retractable hard top that tucks away into a separate compartment behind the driver. It leaves the trunk’s 150 litres of luggage space unaffected.
It’s a sportier drive, too, with a satisfying six-speed manual gear box or, for $1,200 more, an automatic with paddle shifters. The stick shift also includes Bilstein shocks for a firmer ride, and both versions now have a limited slip differential.
It’s the same 158-hp engine though, and this is the key attraction of the MX-5: it’s not fast. It’s fun, it’s peppy, but you’ll have to be a real yahoo to get speeding tickets.
Because the MX-5 is so small, it feels quick when you’re whipping along the country lanes but chances are you’re driving close to the speed limit. This is no Porsche Boxster or Mercedes SLK — you just enjoy the feeling of driving a nippy little sports car with the top down. It’s not even a chick car. In fact, in Canada, 66.1 per cent of all MX-5 buyers are men, which is the highest percentage of all the Mazda vehicles. They’re probably older, perhaps retired, with money to splurge on a fun second car.
The average age of an MX-5 buyer is 56 and 82 per cent of them are married. Compare that to buyers of other two-seater sports cars, who are five years younger and where only 63 per cent are married. The Mazda drivers don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
If you do want a (slightly) faster and more responsive ride, the GT edition offers a 167-hp version of the same engine for about $4,000 more, which now includes heated seats, Bluetooth and HID Xenon headlights.
And then, topping out with a $40,925 list price, there’s the 25th Anniversary Edition I’m driving, with a gorgeous red paint job and creamy leather interior; lots of red stitching and satin-chrome bezels around the instruments and, to add a little extra zip, lightweight pistons, connecting rods and flywheel.
It’s careful not to go over the top for available options, though. There’s no navigation system, for example, with a large display screen to fill the dash, or heads-up display on the windshield. No fancy heated air for the back of the neck. Not even powered seats.
The MX-5 is all about simplicity and getting back to the basics of a responsive drive. It’s why it’s officially — according to the Guinness Book of Records — the bestselling two-seater car of all time. As of this June, Mazda sold more than 945,000 of them in about 60 markets around the world. The most popular market is the United States followed by the U.K., but Canada is fifth. Sales here are down, however. In Canada last year, Mazda sold only 554 MX-5s — just a third of the annual number before the recession and its lowest figure ever. The Japanese maker hopes its next-generation model will hike sales back up.
Not much is known about the new 2016 car. It will be shown to media next month and seen at October’s Paris auto show, and it will benefit from Mazda’s fuel-saving SkyActiv technology. It might also exceed 200 hp, but don’t expect a turbocharger — that would be expensive.
The little sports car might be low-priced compared to the roadster competition, but it’s still a lot of money for something most people drive only in the summer. It can be a year-round car, especially with the hard top. I didn’t find a rattle, but it is loud, with plenty of wind noise around the windows that you won’t welcome on a February morning. You also won’t welcome dropping way down into the seat, especially if you’re an older driver with creaky knees, but this is the price you pay for a little car. It’s no different in a Lamborghini, and then you’ll have people wanting you to prove yourself.
My friend the trucker certainly didn’t need to prove anything. He rose from the seat when my coffee refill arrived and shook my hand warmly.
“Summer’s too short,” he said. “But when it’s here, I make the most of it.”
I watched him leave and then, through the restaurant window, saw him climb up into the cab of his long-hauler. I knew he was instead thinking of setting down into the seat of his little roadster, he and his wife, and looking for new roads to be driven at their own pace.
Not too fast, not too slow.
The vehicle tested by Wheels contributor Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email email@example.com.